By “highway men” should be understood to mean mischief makers, criminal-minded persons and paid agents who waylay, intercept and mislead people going about their honest affairs, on high-ways. They include robbers, pirates, terrorists and other species who engage in such pranks for various purposes, including hostage-taking for ransom. With regards to mass media activities there are also such highway men and women who use wide range of electronic gadgets to do a number of things that are not in the best interest of humanity.
Responsibilities of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) include ensuring that all the media and waves of communication are not abused. But there are a number of pranks which political and commercial interest groups play on unsuspecting public which this article intends to point out. It is unfortunate that a large number of Nigerians, including highly educated ones, are so naïve and gullible that they fall prey to the pranks of mischief makers. “Yahooboys” are merely apprentices.
Specifically, “phone-in programmes” of various radio stations have become the common playground of media highway men in practical mischief-making. Any keenly-perceptive observer who has taken some pains to monitor what goes on in radio phone-in programmes, would know the brewing ills there.
Without mentioning definite names of some of those who are regular patrons and participants in such early-morning radio programmes, let it suffice to alert the public that some of them are paid agents.
Perhaps, presenters of such radio programmes may or may not be privy to the on-going pranks; activities and utterances of such possible paid-agents are quite worrisome. Ranging from the quick defence of the policies and programmes of definite political parties, to freelance public relations works, paid agents show clearly that they are representing and working for some definite interest groups. Some of them also become so audacious and mean that they believe all Nigerians are suckers. This must not continue!
It has become needful to use this medium to advise that utterances of participants in all mass media programmes should not be allowed to create animosity in the society. Similarly, it would be unprofessional for any media house to give any impression, however remote or concealed, that it is partisan in its activities. It would not be enough for programme presenters to warn or advise public participants to be polite or guarded in what they say.
A situation where “Pastors” and “men of God” would speak endlessly and unguardedly like motor-park touts in public participatory radio programmes can do no credit to the image of the clergy. Even though the professional orientation and ethics of programme presenters may force them to accommodate prattlers, there is a need for discipline and control. Just for the fun of it, it may interest the public to know that a particular regular participant in radio programmes spoke in 116 occasions in less than 12 months. Who pays for his airtime?
Let it not be taken as if anyone wants to curtail the constitutional freedom of any Nigerian, rather, there is an observable trend that some “dirty political pranks” play out through the mass media. The larger unsuspecting public may not be aware of the trend, but the final outcome of activities of media highway men would definitely not be palatable for everyone. Mischievous participants in media programmes may do what they do in order to be heard or seen, but there is more to it.
It is expected and normal that those who express opinions in public should stick to what they can substantiate or be ready to face litigation where necessary. Similarly, to talk carelessly in public fora can be to rubbish a speaker’s reputation, but some Nigerians rarely care about such rules of engagement. But when talking or prattling epidemic can take the form of paid agents playing the role of spoilers and political gamblers the situation is different.
For readers who would cast doubt on the allegation of paid agents acting as media highway men, let such readers know that Scotland Yard-trained professionals have special means of information gathering. Therefore, asking for evidence to be provided in chapters and verses is to be merely academic and short-sighted. Actions speak louder than words!
Another angle in the issue of possible paid agents using the mass media as fora to practise some acts of mischief is the fact that security votes serve more purposes than what an average Nigerian knows. It may also interest readers to know that political parties provide some fund for security and other purposes. Therefore, there is more to opinions which some people express in the public than what meets the eyes. Both before, during and after elections and successes or failure arising therefrom, political interest groups can “fly some kites” for future actions.
This strategy of flying some kite is not peculiar to political groups alone, because other commercial interests do similar things, to test the waters and public perceptions. From advertising, public relations and advocacy programmes, to other strategies of having to deal with hostilities and the unexpected, organizations of all kinds spend much money for grassroots operations. Perhaps, some of the people used for covert operations may not know what purposes that they are being used to achieve, but the lure of money is a priority.
Sadly, media practitioners and programme presenters and moderators may not know what nature of highway men that they interact with daily. Why must particular persons speak everyday on radio programmes?
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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